Writing for the Movies, Art, the Liminal, Science Fiction, and more -
~ from An Interview with Harrison Solow by Madison Woods.
MW: Since you’ve been part of the television and movie industry for some time, have you any insight to offer us on how we as writers might influence the possibility of such a deal? (I realize agents have most of the power in this, but what about indie authors, how would they approach the industry?) Is there a certain type of writing that makes better movies?
HS: In answer to the first question: No, I haven’t. First of all, I never give writing advice except to my students (both university and private – or when I give a writing workshop), unless asked a specific question by someone I know well and whose work I know well. Secondly, any advice given about such a fluctuant and capricious industry as the entertainment industry is bound to be outdated a few minutes after someone reads it. You’re right about agents being essential to the submission process in any major motion picture deal (they actually are the submission process), but as for power, entertainment attorneys wield the most power in Hollywood. Unquestionably.
“Is there a certain type of writing that makes better movies?” Good writing doesn’t always make good movies and bad writing doesn’t always make bad movies. Good and bad are so relative that these are impossible terms to employ. Optioned books/scripts get changed, dialogue gets rewritten, stories become “based on” either to their greater good or to their detriment. But they do get changed. A movie is not a book. A case in point – I was on the set once of a television show in which an actress friend of mine (normally very cooperative) simply could not get one of her sentences right. After many takes, she said – “I can’t say these lines. Nobody talks like this!” So the director tried to say it out loud and stumbled over it. The result was that they called the Producer for permission to rewrite it – with approval for every word change. In this case, it was a script and not a book that was the issue, but it often happens that the written sentence is not viable as a spoken sentence. Most often it is written for the eye and not the ear.
If you mean “successful” or “saleable” there is a different criterion altogether. My Dinner With Andre is beautifully written. Most people haven’t heard about it. On the other hand, Star Wars, which hardly depends on writing for its success, is another story entirely. (And I love Star Wars, which actually illustrates the point.) I’ve been in book-to-movie meetings with very fine directors who are thoroughly enthusiastic about doing a deal and getting a project underway one day and completely disinterested the next. Something as simple as a complex copyright issue that will take some time to work out will send them running to other projects – of which there is an endless, hopeful stream.
My husband, who was the head of three major movie studios, bought hundreds of scripts and made dozens of movies and television shows (some of them, like Star Trek and Mission Impossible, iconic), often explains the writer’s situation this way: “There are about 6000 members of the Writer’s Guild of America. These are experienced, successful writers whose scripts have already been made into movies and television shows and who are well-known and respected in the industry. They have agents who represent them and lawyers who protect them. These writers are the people with whom studios will take a meeting. If each of them has, say, three to ten ideas for a movie each year, that’s 18,000 to 60,000 possible movies. There are not 18,000 to 60,000 movies made every year. There are not 18,000 to 60,000 meetings granted by studios to agents/writers each year. The unknown writer, especially one living outside LA, where mere presence can have a catalytic effect, is facing those odds.”
So for me to give advice to an aspiring writer on how to get a screenplay to a major studio would be irresponsible. I don’t know about the little independent production companies outside Hollywood. That’s not my world.
End of Excerpt. The entire interview can be seen at: http://bit.ly/AuEH3Y
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance